Mardi Gras in Shreveport or Confessions of a Mardi Gras Bead Newbie

Brad Graff, King of Gemini XXIV Parade
Queen of Gemini Parade

The idea of joining 1.5 million revelers in New Orleans for Mardi Gras made this slightly claustrophobic traveler nervous.  However, experiencing similar parades in Shreveport with more locals than tourists was appealing. I just wasn’t prepared to be caught up in the bead mania.

Mardi Gras was the first celebration of the French who landed in Louisiana on that Tuesday before Ash Wednesday over 300 years ago.   In the 1700s,  then secret societies (or krewes) held balls and other festivities.  New Orleans torch bearers led night parades sponsored by these groups in the 1830s with the first daylight event debuting in 1872  – about the time “throws” from floats were first recorded.  In the 1920s, bead throwing began in earnest but with glass beads from Czechoslovakia and Japan.

Flintstone float
I Love Lucy float

This festival is held throughout Louisiana – a state and school holiday since 1875. Shreveport’s celebrations date back to the mid-19th century although it was dormant for many years before being revived in 1984.  The Gemini Krewe’s parade is the oldest and its theme this year was “Gemini Loves Television” – a far cry from the original mythical and satirical themes.  It’s hard to compare a Gunsmoke float with one called  “The Missing Links to Darwin’s Origin of Species”  from 1873.

Beads in Waiting
Beads on a Fire Truck

Yet, the basics are the same.  Members of the Krewes pay to decorate floats and for all of  beads (now plastic ones from China and Korea), candy, toy coins called doubloons,  footballs, and cups that are thrown as well.  This year,  $220 and a membership would also buy you a space on top.  While drinking is part of the fun, both on and off the floats, we saw little excessive behavior.  Families and friends lined the road, many with chairs and coolers.  Kids crowded to the front for the freebies. Experienced adults recognized the more generous floats as they approached and would rush to the front for the bags of goodies.

Beads in Waiting

My plan was to takes notes, photos, and observe.  That fell apart when the first beaded necklace dropped at my feet. I scooped it up and started collecting.  The problem was being only five feet tall.  To really grab the beads in air, I had to be in front with all the kids.  But it didn’t feel right jumping at necklaces in front of sweet five year olds.  If I moved back, taller arms could clutch anything coming my way.  I had to turn to my six feet three inch husband who took some convincing to participate.   But when he did, It was great.  After a while, I could order as in “I need a purple one or  I like the white ones.”   He simply reached up and caught my desired color.   He also shared with others around us whose necks were bare.

A woman who knew what to look for

 At our hotel the next morning, we saw a woman from Tyler who had been at the parade and was an experienced Mardi Gras participant.  When asked  how our parade compared to others, she admitted disappointment in the “crummy” beads.  No  “good”  beads had been thrown.  Only then did I notice the difference in what she was wearing and what we had caught.  Her beads were larger and of different shapes,  with some necklaces having charms or a medallion in the middle.   I realized I needed to pay more attention.

Highland Neighborhood Parade
Highland Neighborhood Parade

On Sunday afternoon, a popular neighborhood parade passed through the Highland area south of downtown Shreveport.  We parked in a nearly full Presbyterian church parking lot and noted all other license plates were from Louisiana.  Floats varied from the large, professional structures to decorated boats or even flatbeds decked out for the Humane Society, Rotary Club or an elementary school’s cheerleaders.  While beads were still the most popular item, throws got more personal.  Candies, gum, cups, balls, moon pies and even hot dogs were tossed into the crowd.  It was here, though, that I caught a small, packaged necklace with a purple and green fleur de lis medal – my first “good”  beaded necklace.

First “Good” Bead Necklace

At midnight Tuesday, Monsigneur Provenza, of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, always meets the two largest Krewes at the center of the Red River Bridge which connects Shreveport and Bossier City.  He blesses the participants and imposes ashes on the forehead of those who request it – an early Ash Wednesday service and an indication that Lent has begun.  All those beautiful beads will now be shared,  stored or sold on Ebay.  But I’m already researching Mardi Gras celebrations for next year – especially those who throw “good” beads.

Recommended Places to Eat

 Herby K’s Restaurant – Herby K’s has been around since 1936 with no recipe changes according to owner, Janet Bean. The neighborhood has changed for the worse but it is well worth seeking out this jewel. On a long communal table in the adjoining patio, we sat with a local family that had been coming there since childhood. A birthday celebration occupied the other end of the table. it was a warm and inviting place. The seafood was fresh and the fried pickles (one of my hidden pleasures) were outstanding. I would definitely return.

Bistro Byronz – The restaurant is one of a small chain in Louisiana offering authentic cajun/french food. Small, local chains are my favorite kind. This means you don’t have to go to New Orleans or Baton Rouge to enjoy shrimp and grits or etoufees or creole pot roast. The drink offering of Pimm’s cup only sealed this restaurant as an authentic southern experience. A great Sunday brunch locale.

One Response to “Mardi Gras in Shreveport or Confessions of a Mardi Gras Bead Newbie”

  1. Dee Martin

    So glad you enjoyed your trip so close to my husbands hometown (Minden). There was an article in the New Orleans paper about a mom helping her child with his homework. When asked if he knew what the primary colors are, he replied "Green, purple, and gold" You might be from New Orleans if….:)


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